Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Enemy at the Gates

Enemy at the Gates; war drama, USA / Germany / UK / Ireland, 2001; D: Jean-Jacques Annaud, S: Jude Law, Joseph Fiennes, Ed Harris, Rachel Weisz, Bob Hoskins, Ron Perlman, Eva Mattes

Stallingrad, World War II. Vassili Zaitsev, a young lad from the Urals, gets drafted into the Red Army with millions of others to defend the strategically important city from the Nazi invasion that aims to create Greater Germany. Accidentally, he proves to be a precise shooter, so his friend Danilov persuades Nikita Khrushchev to make a war hero out of him and use him in a propaganda in order to give the Soviets their moral back. Indeed, Vassili kills dozens of high ranking Nazis as a sniper, so the Major Erwin König is brought from Berlin to assassinate him. Danilov is killed by König, who is subsequently killed by Vassilov who afterwards reunites with his love Tanya.

"Enemy at the Gates" strikes all the best cues in the first third where it perfectly captures the moody situation of young Russians going to fight for Stallingrad during World War II: the high ranking officials are canvassing soldiers in their own lines by shooting anyone who is trying to desert; due to lack of arms and ammunition, one soldier gets a gun while the other one is following him and picking it up to continue fighting on his place if he gets shot; the town is in ruins and civilians are massively getting evacuated...In just a few precise shots, director Jean-Jacques Annaud sets up almost everything that is needed to capture the attention for the true story of Russian shooter Vassili Zaitsev (good Jude Law) - even though his duel with the fictional Nazi shooter Erwin König (excellent Ed Harris) isn't half as intense as the beginning of the story - while some details were quite neat (the map of the Eastern Front at the exposition which serves as a good orientation for the audience), especially the stand out small role of Bob Hoskins who is perfectly cast as Nikita Khrushchev.

However, the second half doesn't have that much to offer and fails to hold the concentration of the viewers to the fullest, losing some steam. Some commentators hailed the love scene between Vassili and Tanya (Weisz) as something extraordinary - but in reality it's completely ordinary, showing just the couple have intercourse in clothes in order to not wake up all the soldiers around them. Also, towards the end, one of the greatest movie quotes can be found here, the one where Danilov, a loyal Socialist, says the following contemplation about the World: "We tried so hard to create a society that was equal, where there'd be nothing to envy your neighbour. But there's always something to envy. A smile, a friendship, something you don't have and want to appropriate. In this world, even a Soviet one, there will always be rich and poor. Rich in gifts...poor in gifts. Rich in love... poor in love".


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